Irnee D'Haenens dies; assisted Maiman in building the first laser

Jan. 4, 2008
January 4, 2008, Malibu, CA--Irnee D'Haenens, a physicist who assisted Ted Maiman in making the first laser at Hughes Research Laboratory (Malibu, CA) in 1960, died December 24; he was 73. The two were the only people present when a little ruby rod emitted the world's first pulse of laser light on May 16, 1960. Later, D'Haenens called the laser "a solution looking for a problem," a joke that became common in the early years of the laser era as developers sought laser applications.

January 4, 2008, Malibu, CA--Irnee D'Haenens, a physicist who assisted Ted Maiman in making the first laser at Hughes Research Laboratory (Malibu, CA) in 1960, died December 24; he was 73. The two were the only people present when a little ruby rod emitted the world's first pulse of laser light on May 16, 1960. Later, D'Haenens called the laser "a solution looking for a problem," a joke that became common in the early years of the laser era as developers sought laser applications.

Born in Mishawaka, Indiana, the son of a service-station operator, D'Haenens spent his entire professional career at Hughes, starting while he was earning a masters degree from the University of Southern California. He received a Hughes doctoral fellowship and earned his PhD from the University of Notre Dame in 1966. As a member of the technical staff at Hughes, he worked on semiconductor physics, microwave technology, and spectroscopy as well as lasers before retiring in 1989. A long-time Hughes colleague, David Pepper, recalled D'Haenens as "as a wise and learned uncle who helped me travel along my path in life," whose first priority was always his family. He is survived by his wife Shirley, four children, 19 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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